Dec 23, 2019
What triggers cause us to become distracted and how do we
transform them so we can gain traction towards our goals and
Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of
psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review
dubbed him, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.”
Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the
Stanford Graduate School of
Business and the Hasso
Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. He is the author of
the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Hooked: How
to Build Habit-Forming Products and his latest
book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and
Choose Your Life
In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been
featured in The Harvard Business
Review, TechCrunch, and
He’s an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his
past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), Refresh.io (acquired
by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Product Hunt, Marco
Polo, Presence Learning, 7 Cups, Pana, Kahoot!, Byte Foods,
FocusMate, and Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify). Nir attended The
Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.
In today’s conversation with us, Nir debunks several myths about
distraction and explains the truth behind why we get distracted and
how to deal with it. We explore our internal and external triggers,
the seat of human motivation, how to use your calendar and to-do
list effectively, and how to build confidence in your ability to do
what you say you want to do, so you can choose your life.
- Getting rid of technology is not the answer.
- Without getting to the root cause of why we get distracted, we
will always find something to distract ourselves.
- Distraction is not a new problem. Plato talked about it 2500
years before the iPhone.
- The opposite of distraction is not focus. The opposite of
distraction is traction.
- Traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to
do. Distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you
plan to do.
- Anything can be a distraction and anything can be
- Checking email while you should be working on that big project
is pernicious because distraction has tricked you into prioritizing
the urgent at the expense of the important.
- As long as you plan what you want to do with your time – you do
things according to your values and your schedule – there’s nothing
wrong with going on Facebook, watching a YouTube video, or playing
a video game.
- When you become indistractable – when you say you’re going to
do something and you actually do it – you are reinforcing a
behavior pattern that says to yourself, “I am indistractable, I do
what I say I’m going to do”, and that is incredibly powerful.
- The root cause of distraction is not the external triggers but
in fact the internal triggers. Most distraction does not start from
outside of us, but rather from within.
- The reason we tend to become distracted is because we are
trying to escape an uncomfortable emotional state.
- Everything we do is about the desire to escape discomfort; even
the pursuit of pleasurable responses.
- Time management is pain management. The root cause of the
problem is our inability to deal with these uncomfortable emotional
states in a healthier way that leads us towards traction rather
- Reimagine the internal trigger that you are trying to escape,
so you can respond differently and utilize it to lead you towards
traction rather than distraction.
- Reimagine your temperament to see yourself differently so you
don’t use your identity or false notions of your temperament or
disposition to lead you astray.
- Most of the labels that people carry around with them are not
really based on science.
- The myth of ego depletion says that you run out of willpower –
that it’s a limited resource. Studies show that it is not true,
except with people who believe that willpower is a limited
- The #1 distraction in the workplace is colleagues interrupting
us with superfluous meetings, interruptions and constant
distractions, especially in open floor plan offices.
- When it comes to distraction, a lot of people fall into one of
two categories – the blamers and the shamers. The blamers blame the
outside stuff. The shamers shame themselves.
- Happiness is a fleeting sensation. Our species has evolved by
constantly wanting more, hunting, striving, inventing and
- Feeling bad is not bad. It’s part of the human experience. It’s
how we handle feeling bad that matters. Pain is inevitable,
suffering is optional. You can channel the discomfort towards
traction rather than distraction. To drive you forward as opposed
to pulling you back.
- If you can catch yourself the moment before you do that
distraction, write down what is the sensation you’re feeling. This
instantly gives you a sense of agency and control over that
- Then explore that sensation with curiosity rather than
contempt. Be a claimer. It’s not your fault; it’s your
responsibility. You can control how you respond to those
- Surf the urge using the 10 minute rule. Tell yourself, “I can
give in to that distraction. In ten minutes.” During the 10
minutes, surf the urge. Talk to yourself like you would a good
friend who might be struggling with this same problem. 9 times out
of 10, after ten minutes you’ll be back to the task at hand.
- 25% of the emails that the average knowledge worker sends, they
didn’t need to send, and 25% of the email they receive, they didn’t
need to receive.
- Often we check our email instead of doing the task at hand,
because we are grasping for agency and control.
- Make time for traction. Every person interviewed for the book
who struggled with distraction had lots of white space in their
- Two-thirds of people don’t keep a calendar. The one-third that
do only keep a calendar for their work tasks.
- Most people don’t use a to-do list correctly. A to-do list is a
list of all the output (rather than outcomes).
- Make a template for your week so that you know the difference
for every minute of the day – what is traction and what is
distraction. And put time for the fun stuff.
Connect With Nir Eyal